An 80-year-old Hilo doctor and four of his staff members were arrested by federal agents Tuesday on drug trafficking charges.
Dr. Ernest Bade was apprehended at his clinic at 260 Osorio Lane in Hilo by U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officers and Hawaii County deputies Tuesday.
Bade and four of Bade’s employees — 80-year-old Marie Benevides, 59-year-old Theresa Saltus, 54-year-old Yvonne Caitano and 32-year-old Sheena Strong — were charged with conspiracy to distribute and possessing to distribute Schedule II, III, IV and V controlled substances.
Neither Bade nor any of his arrested employees have any prior criminal record in Hawaii outside of miscellaneous traffic offenses, according to Hawaii court records.
According to a U.S. District Court criminal complaint, the DEA was first informed about Bade’s activities in 2014, when a Hilo pharmacist told investigators that Bade authorized prescriptions for controlled substances such as methadone, oxycodone and morphine suspiciously frequently and at unusually high dosages.
That frequency, in addition to Bade’s habits of prescribing opioids alongside muscle relaxants and benzodiazepine — a combination avoided by legitimate medical professionals because of its high risk of overdose, but sought after by the black market — triggered the beginning of an undercover investigation into Bade’s activities in May 2015.
That month, an undercover officer obtained a prescription for morphine from Bade after complaining of shoulder pain. The following month, the officer returned with another officer and obtained additional medications.
Although the investigation was suspended until June 2018, an undercover officer returned to obtain opioids from Bade and observed several “red flags,” including Bade’s failure to perform urinalysis, his irregular business hours, his mismanagement of patient records, his malleability in altering prescriptions at patients’ whims and more, according to the complaint.
The DEA also obtained flight records for Caitano, Strong, Benevides and Saltus. The complaint alleges a staff member would fly to Maui each month to fill multiple prescriptions at pharmacies there for different individuals, believed by the DEA to be members of the staffers’ families. Between the four of them, Caitano, Strong, Benevides and Saltus allegedly obtained more than 10,000 30 mg units of oxycodone since September 2016.
In August, the DEA interviewed a 14-year-old living with Caitano who allegedly was frequently made to assist Caitano in distributing pharmaceuticals and obtaining money, and would be verbally and physically abused if the transactions were irregular. The minor furnished the DEA with specific details of Bade’s operation.
The five suspects were taken into federal custody and flown to Honolulu to face charges. Preliminary hearings are scheduled for Oct. 30.
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